Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bee Business

Hello Friends!

It is a chilly, damp January day and we are all doing our best to stay warm and cozy here in the garden. In fact, we have been a little worried about how our bees are doing since this is their first winter here at IslandWood. We decided to give them a little help staying warm.....check it out!

We added some hay bails (thanks Ben for the idea!) on the sides for insulation, and a plywood roof to drain the rain off far over their door. This should keep them warmer, and dryer which hopefully will help them survive the winter season.

So why do bees need warmth in the winter? How do they stay warm anyways? How do bees usually make it through the winter in the wild, or in even colder environments?

Bees need ways to stay warm during the winter just like us. In fact their hive needs to stay a toasty ~80-90 degrees for last growing babies and the mature adults. However, insects including bees are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature reflects the temperature of their surrounding environment, so keeping their hive warm is very important. This is also termed "cold-blooded", although this is not always correct as their blood is certainly not cold!! Humans are endothermic in contrast, meaning we can create our own heat from within our bodies.

To keep warm in the winter, they rely on a couple of strategies. Firstly, they are a bit furry, and this fur helps to trap warm air and provide some insulation. Secondly, they huddle up inside the center of their hive into a ball called a "winter cluster", squeezed together tightly with the queen in the center. Finally, some of the bees exercise their wings, the biggest muscles in their bodies, to create heat similar to shivering in humans. Imagine how warm you get doing jumping jacks? It is the same idea. The bees take turns flapping their wings, so no one gets too tired or hungry!

Bees need to feed on stored honey through the winter to help give them enough energy and fuel to produce heat, and just to survive like humans and other animals. Sometimes, food can be added to hives to give them an extra boost through the winter, however for an established hive they usually have enough on their own. Hopefully our bees are staying warm, and well fed....they don't have too much longer!

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